Chris Singleton: Your Life Matters
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Could celebrating each child’s unique image of God help heal racial division? Speaker Chris Singleton discusses his new children’s book, Your Life Matters.
Chris Singleton: Your Life Matters
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Your Life Matters
Guest: Chris Singleton
From the series: Your Life Matters (Day 2 of 2)
Air date: October 4, 2022
Dave: I do this—I want to know if you do this—when you’re sitting in a mall, or maybe at an airport, or somewhere where there’s a bunch of people walking by, and you’re just sitting there—do you ever find yourself judging people?
Ann: No, I don’t think I judge them.
Dave: You’re just like perfect; aren’t you?
Ann: No! I’m saying/like you know what I do—people walk by—and I create these stories of their lives.
Dave: I’m calling it judging.
Ann: Are you judging them?
Dave: I will make judgements about people that I don’t know based on how they’re walking, what they’re wearing; if I can hear them talking, what they’re talking about. It’s terrible, but I’m finding that I think I judge them.
Ann: Yes; I think we, as people, do that. We judge one another, not knowing their background or their story.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Today, we want to talk a little bit about: “How do we see the image of God in everyone?”—those who are similar to us, those who are different; some that we might judge, without knowing, in a negative way—"How do we have the eyes of God to see people the way that God sees them?” They’re imager-bearers of our King, and they should be celebrated rather than judged.
We’ve got Chris Singleton back in the studio at FamilyLife Today. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, Chris.
Chris: Thank you, man. Glad to be back.
Dave: You’re smiling over there because you wrote a book about this. It’s called Different, and it’s written for children. I read it, and I’m telling you right now:—
Ann: —it’s really good.
Dave: Yes. “This may be a children’s book, but every adult needs to read it.” You can tell us what your goal and your purpose was. I’m guessing it sort of relates to what we were just talking about; right?
Chris: Absolutely, man. I would travel around—speaking to schools, high schools, companies, and churches—but I never felt safe talking with little kids. I said, “Man, I’ve got such a sad story,”—I don’t want to take away their innocence; right?—“So how do I get the same message of loving people across to kids?”
One of the biggest things that we forget is that—so many things we don’t choose in our lives—we forget that sometimes. Just thinking about it: we don’t choose our names, most of the time; we’re given our names; we don’t choose where we’re born, who we’re born to. We even think, “Why do we like a certain type of music?”—maybe because we heard it, growing up? Or maybe, because when we finally heard it for the first time, we experienced a new music, it’s like, “Man, this experience is amazing!” I try to remind people of that.
But with kids, I say, “How do I do that?”; and this children’s book came about.
Dave: Remind our listeners a little bit—you just said you come from a sad story you don’t want to tell the kids—tell us in a minute or two a little bit about: “What’s this story?”
Chris: Unfortunately, I lost my mom in the Mother Emmanuel AME Church shooting. On
June 17, 2015, she was one of nine victims that lost their life to a guy who wanted to start a race war in this country. Following that, I had this mission of unity: “How can I unite people? Even though we’re different, even though some of us speak different languages, how can we come together?”—that’s—“Remembering that we serve one God and one King, and we’re all made in the image of Him,”—that’s one thing we can do.
I said, “How can I do that with kids?” That’s when this book came about. One of the things I do, with my story to honor my mom, is I put my mom in every single children’s book that I write, some way/somehow. She was an educator; my mom read books to me, growing up. I didn’t even realize how lucky I was, as a kid, to have my mom reading to me; so many kids don’t have that. That’s why I wrote this book.
My favorite page/I’m going to read my favorite page, if you don’t mind.
Dave: I’d love to hear it.
Ann: Do you think we should have a little background of what’s happening in the story before you read this page?
Dave: I thought you were going to say, “…background music.”
Ann: Oh. [Laughter]
Chris: This book is about a kid named Obina, coming from Nigeria. Obina gets to the States; and he gets to Charleston, where I’m from. He gets picked on a little bit because he’s different; right? He’s wearing different clothes; he’s got different hair, so kids are making fun of him. In the end, obviously, they celebrate Obina; they celebrate his differences.
In this part, I put my mom in this specific scene; because this is something she said to me. Obina’s sad—people are talking about him—he throws off his Dashiki, his traditional clothing. [Reading] “Mrs. Sharonda handed him a tissue, and her eyes were soft, the kind of eyes that seem to know exactly what you’re feeling without you having to say a word. They sat in silence for a long time; then, ‘Never be ashamed of who you are, Obina,’ Mrs. Sharonda said. ‘You are beautifully and wonderfully made.’”
That’s my favorite part of the whole book. My mom used to pray for us when we were sleeping. She’d come in our room, and she’d pray over us, and let us know that we’re beautifully and wonderfully made/fearfully and wonderfully made. I wanted to definitely put that in this story to honor my mom and her memory.
Dave: As your mom told you that, as a young little boy, was it something you believed? Or was it something you had to walk through, struggle to believe?
Chris: No, it was good. I think, when your parents are building you up every single day, you’ve got to have a certain level of confidence; right? For me, I’m a dark-skinned kid—so like every kid—we get picked on for something. People would say things about me, being dark-skinned, and stuff like that. It was in one ear and out the other ear; why? Because my mom was telling me I was beautifully and wonderfully made.
I think it’s beautiful when parents are building their kids up every single day. When a kid goes to school—and they hear something—“Ah, it’s funny; but my mom and dad tell me I’m made in the image of God; I’m made in the image of our Lord and Savior. Yes, it’s cool, and it’s a little joke; but I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Ann: Oh, the whole thing just makes me cry.
Dave: Look at her over here! She’s tearing up!
Ann: The fact that you put your mom in every one of your books: the foundation that she gave you to tell you every day, and praying for you; reading books to you; talking about Jesus to you.
As a mom and a dad I think, often, we wonder, “Do they hear us?” You have two little boys, Chris, who are four and a seven-month-old.
Chris: I do; I do, yes.
Ann: They’re squirming around; they’re messing around; they’re throwing things around. You wonder, “Do they hear me?” Your life is basically saying, “I heard my mom; not only did I hear her, I watched her. I want to bring honor to her.”
As parents, I think that was my greatest fear: “Will they understand that they were made in the image of God?—that He loves them, that He sees them, that He celebrates them?”
I love your story because it reminds us, as parents, “Yes, they hear us.” We might have to say it a million times, but that is the foundation. [Laughter] You’re probably saying that to your boys now.
Chris: I am; I am. My son, C.J., is a kind of kid who would jump off of anything; he doesn’t care if he gets hurt. So I’ve got to wind him down; I’ve got to pull him back. [Laughter]
Even him, I want to let him know—my wife is from Brazil, and she speaks Portuguese at home with our kids—she wants them to learn her native language. Grandma, you know—
Dave: So you’ve got kids, bi-lingual, already?
Chris: Yes; at first, though, he wasn’t speaking anything. I’m speaking English: “Daddy/he’s still trying to figure that thing out,”—I’m still trying to figure out Portuguese—it’s a tough language; I’m learning it. My wife’s speaking Portuguese; Grandma’s speaking Portuguese. So my son wouldn’t saying anything. I’m thinking, “Man, is his language okay?” I’m nervous; he goes to daycare, and all the other kids are talking. “My son’s getting made fun of,”—is what I’m thinking in my head because he can’t say anything yet.
Now, he talks way too much in both languages. [Laughter] I’m grateful that he’s able to speak; that’s always a fear that I had. But just instilling it into him—let him know whose image he’s made into—I think that’s very important in every single child’s development.
Dave: How important do you feel like it was for you, when you lost your mom—a terrible way to lose your mother—and you’ve lost your dad as well now—the foundation of understanding your identity. A pro athlete’s identity, often, is connected to what they do, and they don’t know who they are after or when they can’t do that anymore.
You lose your mom; you lose your dad—was that foundation of your identity in Christ, and understanding you’re beautifully and wonderfully made; you heard that your whole life from your mom—was that a foundation for you to be able to go forward?
Chris: It definitely was. I’m such a believer in: “You’ve got to find it for yourself as well”; right? Your parents can lead you to the water your whole life, if you’re not drinking it, then what’s going to happen? For me, my mom was always instilling these thing into me. Sometimes, you never know when you’re going to need those things your mom and dad were talking about. When your pastor’s telling you this, from four years ago; and he talked about it in a sports way, so it’s stuck with you—all of a sudden, you go through something, like, “Man, I remember what my pastor said four years ago or so.”
I think it was definitely important that they instilled it into me, but I had to have that personal relationship myself. That’s when things finally started to click for me—a lot of stuff that wasn’t making sense—it finally started to make more sense for my life.
Ann: I’m just thinking about you: you’re traveling a lot; you’re speaking to businessmen/businesswomen; you’re speaking at schools—high schools, middle schools, elementary schools. Your message is about unity?—would you say that’s the core message?
Chris: That’s the message: “How we can live together in harmony.” Yes, that’s the message.
Ann: Do you read your book to elementary school kids?
Chris: I do; absolutely.
Ann: And what’s the response like?
Chris: It’s a great response. We have fun when I go to elementary schools. I get all the kids jumping up and down and smiling. The coolest thing that I do, though—is at the end of the story, there’s discussion questions—I ask them, “Hey, what makes you different? We’re going to celebrate. The whole school is going to celebrate what makes you different right now.”
You’ll have kids come up and say, “You know what, Mr. Singleton? I’ve actually got six fingers.” Instead of everybody laughing at this kid, we all celebrate him for being different; right? This other girl was saying, “Hey, I’ve got a lazy eye; it’s tough for me to see out of this one eye.” Instead of laughing at her, we’ll celebrate them because they’re different.
Ann: So do you guys cheer?
Chris: We do; we do something called a “unity clap.”
Dave: I watched this! [Claps twice]
Chris: Yes, we clap twice in unison. If we do it together, it’s more powerful. We’ll have kids saying, “My mom’s from this place; my dad’s from this place.” Some people say, “I don’t have a dad; that’s what makes me different.” And we’ll celebrate. Instead of that kid feeling, “Man, I’m getting beat up because I’m different,”—whatever it might be—we celebrate it.
Sometimes, I have teachers say, “You know what makes me different? I’ve got webbed toes. I’ve never told anybody, but today I’m going to tell this school that I’ve got webbed toes!” [Laughter] It is a beautiful thing that we celebrate everybody when we do this in the schools.
Dave: I watched him do it; I don’t know where you were—with a bunch of elementary kids—it looked like hundreds of them. You even got on them when they didn’t unity clap in unison: “Let’s do that again. You can do better.” [Laughter]
Dave: Help us understand—okay; so when I grow up, and I’m an adult; and I sit in a mall or an airport, and I judge people—people I don’t even know—again, I’m sort of having fun with that; I don’t really think that. But there are times when, because people are different than us—we don’t understand; we don’t know their history; we don’t know their culture—we judge and we build a wall rather than jump through that wall or build a bridge. Help us understand how we celebrate somebody who is different.
Chris: This is a great example of how I teach it. For me, I always say, “Share your story before your stance.” When you share your story, before whatever it is that you stand on, people usually understand why you stand where you do.
When I tell my story of losing my mom the way that I did—she was shot while she was praying, unfortunately—when I tell somebody, “I don’t really like guns too much. I’ll probably never have one myself,” most people say, “You know what? I understand why Chris doesn’t like them; because his mom was shot and killed while she was praying.”
On the flip side, if somebody tells me, “Hey, I’ve grown up hunting my whole life. My grandmother and grandfather had a gun, and grandmother had a gun next to them on the bed while they slept. It was normal for us. I’ve gone hunting every single year: quail hunting, pheasant hunting, or deer hunting, or bear hunting,”—I didn’t know that was a thing until just recently. When somebody says, “Chris, I love guns,”—after they tell me why or their story—I can understand just as well.
Most times, when we see somebody who’s different, we hear their stance; and we say, “You know what? I could never agree with this person.” You probably could agree to disagree if you understood their story. That is how I teach how we can come together and still believe in what we believe in. You don’t have to change your heart. But we have so much division because we don’t know everybody’s story behind their stance. When we do, that’s when we can say, “You know what? I understand why they think the way they do, even though that’s not what I believe.”
Ann: I know, with a Detroit Lions Bible study that I led with their wives, I made a point, as we started doing it longer and longer, to hear each other’s stories; because then you really do understand one another. And not only do we hear each other’s stories—but then, the parts of the story that [they] are wounded and things have happened—when we listen, we start praying, “Lord, how can I encourage this person?” After the person has shared their story, we’ll speak life—is what I call it—speak life into the person—
Chris: I love that.
Ann: —of like: “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” “I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this. Here’s some things I see in your life of the way you’ve overcome that. It’s miraculous!” Or maybe they’re still in it—just to surround them—and then, at the end, we’ll lay hands on that person and pray for them. It binds us together; our hearts are connected when you hear one another’s stories.
Dave: I can remember sitting in the college locker room, our football locker room. I remember there was a kid on our team from the inner city of Cincinnati. I’m playing at Ball State in Indiana. I loved this guy, but I thought, “We are so different. We’re nothing alike. He’s a black guy; I’m a white guy. He’s from the inner city; I’m from the suburbs,”—just all these differences.
I’ll never forget—one day we ended up in the locker room together; most everybody had left—and I’m sitting right beside him. I didn’t even plan to do this, but I say, “Hey, dude; tell me about your family. Tell me your story.” As he started to talk about his family, I was sitting there, going, “Oh, my goodness; we are almost twins,” in terms of like his dad was an alcoholic, walked out when he was a little boy; mom and dad got divorced; there was abuse. There was different things in his family; I’m like—
He looked at me and goes, “So what’s your story?” I go, “It’s the same story.” He goes, “No, it isn’t, dude; what are you talking about? You’re from Ohio;”—and da, da, da—"you have this family.” I go, “Dad walked out when I was seven; he was an alcoholic; there was abuse.”
It gave me a love for him, and he for me because we were different, but we weren’t. It was like, “We’ve got the same story!” I never would have known that if I hadn’t taken the moment to say—just what you said, Chris—“Tell me your story.” It was like, “Wow! There’s more in common here than there is different.”
Dave: God wanted us to build that. Is that part of the way you learn to love somebody you don’t even know?
Chris: I’ve recognized that going through pain and struggle is universal; right? In the Good Book it says, “Consider it pure joy when you face the trials,”—not—“if we face those trials.” We’re all going to face trials. Some people, it happens when they’re 12, like my brother; some people, it happens when they’re 42—it’s just different times—we’re going to face them. The way we come together is getting each other through those times.
I love that you mentioned that about your college teammate; because so often, we look at somebody, we say, “This person’s never been through anything: they live there; they have this or they have that.” Struggle and pain is universal—different country, different places; even here in the States—it’s universal.
I loved what you [Ann] said about us speaking life into people. The reason I love that so much is, when my mom was killed, so many people were praying for us. I know, sometimes, people say, I’m praying for you,”—they may not even pray; they just say that—it’s just a nice thing to say. But I genuinely believe in the power of prayer. If people are actually praying for somebody, I think it does wonders. I believe in prayer so much. Before I even say, “I’m praying for you,” I’ll say, “The prayer’s already been sent. That’s how much I care about you: the prayer has already been sent.”
I remember back, when I lost my mom, people were sending us prayer blankets and all these quilts, and saying, “I’m praying for you all the time.” It genuinely gave me strength to know that people were in my corner, praying for me; so thank you for doing that. Hopefully, everybody, listening, is doing that as well.
Ann: When I was younger, I used to say that to somebody: “Hey, I will be praying for you.” As I got older, I thought, “Sometimes, I just forget,”—you walk away and you forget to pray—so what I try to do now is pray for somebody right there on the spot.
Ann: It could take not even a minute; it could take 30 seconds. I did it with an Uber driver, not too long ago, where she shared with me what was going on. I said, “I’m going to be praying for you. Would you mind if I prayed for you right now?” When I was done, she’s crying! There’s power in that; and the fact that somebody would take the time to actually pray words over you of blessing, and even comfort, of saying, “Lord, this must be so hard to have gone through. But thank You that You’re there.”
Dave: I know that, being her husband for 41 years, she is telling you the truth. Everywhere we go—could be in an airport, Uber driver, our neighborhood; I am not exaggerating—she prays for people, right there, and speaks life to total strangers! [Laughter] Trust me. There’s times, like, “Can we just go now? Do you really have to walk over to that person?”
It's amazing to watch the person—usually, a stranger—their face lights up. You can tell, maybe, nobody’s ever done this; if they have, it’s been years. Just that moment of looking somebody in the eye, listening long enough to know a little bit of their story, praying for them, and then blessing them with your words; it’s unbelievable to watch their countenance change. They may go from the worst day of their life to one of their best. Watching my wife, she’s like an angel!
Ann: I am not, but it’s kind of just seeing people. I was in the airport—Dave, you weren’t with me; this is just a few weeks ago, where—makes me teary, thinking of this—there was a woman on the [plane], going to baggage. She was noticeably upset. She was probably in her 60s. I asked her, “Are you okay?” She started to cry, and she said, “This is the first trip that I’ve been on without my husband,”—he just passed away recently—"I realized I’ve never paid attention in the airport because I’ve always followed my husband, and I don’t even know where I’m going.” I just prayed for her real quick; I said, “That’s got to be so hard.” I walked her to the car to meet her daughter.
If we could just see each other and notice each other when we are going through pain.
Chris: I always heard this, as an athlete—I had athletes say stuff like this—they would say, “Praying moms and praying grandmas keep the world going around,” right? [Laughter] When I hear that, I think that’s so true. I think about my mother and how much of a prayer warrior she was. “So keep doing that”; because we need more of that going around, for sure.
Dave: I know that, as a pastor and preacher for 30 years, one of the things I tried to say often in a sermon, many times a year, was this thought—I got it from another preacher decades ago—when I heard him talk about: “We often label people with a number.” Even with athletes, we do it: “That guy’s a 10,” or “…a 5,” or “…6.” He said this—I’ll never forget it—he said, “You have never looked at a person, ever in your life, who God doesn’t say is a 10.”
Every person you see is a 10 to God—they are image-bearers; they are made in the image of God—you’ve never once laid your eyes on a person, who doesn’t matter to God. If we remembered that—it’s your core message; isn’t it Chris?—it’s like: "How do you go from hate to love?”—they are loved by God. If I’m a lover of God, I will love them, whether I agree [with them or not]—it doesn’t matter.
Chris: You have to; yes, you have to. Especially, I feel like, as believers—in my mind—as believers, it’s our duty to love people. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. If not us, then who?
Shelby: I love that. That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Chris Singleton on FamilyLife Today. Stick around; you’ll want to hear Ann’s encouraging words to Chris in just a second. But first, Chris has written a children’s book called Your Life Matters. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by giving us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Okay; look, I get it. Some people aren’t the biggest fans of the kinds of decorations that start going up this time of year; I understand. But what if you could share the gospel while carving out a pumpkin? You can with FamilyLife’s latest free resource; it’s called “Gospel in a Pumpkin.” It’s a free download with activities, pumpkin face stencil sheets, and a guided script to help your kids learn about what matters most as you carve your jack-o-lanterns. It’s a great chance to shine some light in the darkness this season. You can download “Gospel in a Pumpkin” for free today at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Resources like this are only made available because of like-minded dedicated partners like you. You can give and help families this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, back to Ann and some encouraging words for Chris Singleton as she reflects on his story.
Ann: Let me just say this to you, Chris: “Well done!” I look over at you, and think, “If one of my sons”—if I had been shot by someone, who was trying to create strife, racially; if I was shot and killed at a Bible study, praying—“If one of my sons would take on this mantle of, thinking, ‘I not only have forgiven my mom’s shooter; but now, I want to spread a message of love and unity to the world, and travel around and let people know God loves them; God has made them in His image; and He has a plan for them,’ I would be ecstatic, knowing that one of my sons had done that.”
Your wife must be so incredibly proud of you. You’re a man of integrity; your maturity is beyond your age at 25 years old. What you’re doing is blessing so many people; you are bringing unity to our country. Thank you for all that you’ve done. Well done!
Chris: Thank you.
Dave: Yes, well done—you could be an angry man—and you’re a blessing everywhere you go.
Chris: I appreciate that.
Dave: That’s a choice.
Chris: That’s the mission; so thank you.
Shelby: Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Ron Deal. They’ll listen and respond to Mike and Kim Anderson’s gut-wrenching story of losing their child to her biological father’s control, a broken marriage, and of a hope lost and then found again. That’s tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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